… it would look and sound something like the Plastiscines.
The other day I decided Sleigh Bells had come up with the greatest song ever, and I made a point of doing errands that required lots of slow driving with the window down and the car stereo cranked. I slunk down a bit in the seat, head back, rocking steady to “Rill Rill.”
Right? Truly, it’s a perfect song for that kind of thing. But today I’m a little sheepish. Don’t know if anyone I knew saw me, but … a 51-year-old man in a 15-year-old station wagon cruisin’ to a song made by and for twenty-something hipsters….
… I’m thinking I should maybe groove out to that sort of music in private. Or out in back of the house.
But the good thing about getting old is that you can choose to enjoy Sleigh Bells’ apocalyptic thrash with a layer of sugar on top. Or not. And you have the Weepies too, who released their first album in four years yesterday. Which is positively thrilling to me. The young folks, I’m not so sure not all the young folks get the Weepies.
Deb Talan and Steve Tannen are the Weepies. They both had solo careers, then they got married. To each other. They have a son they took years off touring to have and raise.
Their music could only have been made by grownups. It’s got real wit and occasionally bizarre imagery, but to me it’s a lot about the thick and thinnin’ of married life. Dealing with commitment and contentment and little pleasures without making the listener feel brain dead.
Here is the first song from “Be My Thrill”:
Wise. Warm. Modest. Wry. Polite. Grammatical. “When I’m gone, Please speak well of me.”
Note the “please” and “well,” kids.
(Also, I still love Sleigh Bells).
This song! From the golden age of the thrift store, this Voice of the Beehive gem has kooky vintage clothes and jewelry, goofy dancing, sunglasses worn indoors, and a great sunny melody (with dark undertones). It is the perfect eighties tune.
Also, it has censorship issues. Californian sisters Tracey Bryn and Melissa Brooke Belland were based in London for the peak Voice of the Beehive Years. The BBC folks insisted they change the lyrics “she says I get it every night” and “he’ll rip you right in two.” The best lines of the song! Here they are “she says I see him every night” and “he’ll rip your heart in two,” which just ain’t the same thing.
They have a Web site that makes me regret even mentally categorizing them as a one-hit wonder eighties band. They worked hard at it for nearly a decade, had a number of respectably charting singles, and headlined shows on both sides of the Atlantic.
Also, this is a pretty awesome Partridge Family cover:
Was channel-flipping the other night and came across an Elvis documentary featuring this amazing footage.
Put your own soundtrack to this insane silent slice of history. Liberace: always with the hands, and clearly hopped up on something or other.
Happy Birthday to Exile on Main Street! Love the dancing proto-squeegee man in this….
“The world is gifted more nutters from North Wales,” says someone who should know!
Wow. These guys are good. Can’t stop watching/listening.
The Passing Show, the BBC documentary about Ronnie Lane, is now online, in six parts. I own it on DVD and watch it all the time. You really should spend the money to buy it, but I’d understand if you wanted to check it out for free, while it lasts, anyway.*
If you know and love Ronnie Lane as I do, watch it. If you don’t know him, all the more reason to watch it.
Lane surfaced in the Small Faces, along with Steve Marriott and Kenny Jones (and later Ian McLagan), one of the best bands in the ridiculously thriving London R&B scene in the mid-60s (the Stones! the Pretty Things! the Yardbirds! the Who! the Kinks!). The Small Faces, minus Marriott and with the addition of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood, became the Faces, who might have been the GREATEST BAND EVER but it’s hard to tell, because their recorded output, while sparkling, is a little sparse. Playing live, they were legendary.
Lane wrote and sang a slew of good songs for Faces, but apparently was not allowed to sing live, except for the opening verse to a cover of “Maybe I’m Amazed.” I read somewhere that Ronnie once posed an “It’s Rod or me” ultimatum to the rest of the band. If true, that was a fairly major miscalculation. (“Ronnie, we love you, but he’s ROD STEWART”).
While most Faces songs were boozy, bawdy and strutting, Lane’s were modest and introspective, though not without their own wit and raunchiness. Rod’s were Saturday night; Ronnie’s were Sunday morning. His greatest song, to my mind, is “Debris,” a son’s loving reminiscence, centered on the vivid image of his father combing through junk on blankets at open-air markets in London’s bombed out East End.
Ronnie walked away from the Faces at their peak. He took his money (which he apparently kept in cash, in a bag) and (over)paid for an old bus and a bunch of circus tents and formed the Passing Show, which toured the English countryside, with burlesque dancers and jugglers and sword swallowers and his band. No one really knew what they were doing, and everyone had a great time. Until the money ran out. He lived at a ramshackle farm, where his rock star buddies came around to drink and sing songs, and recorded several wonderful but not especially successful albums.
Then Ronnie got MS, which had also afflicted his mother. His famous music mates (Clapton, Beck, Winwood, Page, Charlie Watts) staged a series of benefits for him and for MS research. He got swindled for a shockingly large amount by a woman in Texas, ended up moving to Austin, and became a fixture of the music scene there when he was well enough to play. He moved a final time to Colorado, where the disease took his life.
The documentary is fairly conventional, but the details and love in the tales told make up for the formulaic structure. In this, the first segment, I especially loved Eric Clapton’s account of the first time he saw the aptly named Small Faces: “These little guys came into the guitar shop and they were really little, they looked like they were like four feet tall. It was like hobbits.” And Ronnie’s account of the early days: “I mean none of us could play. I was just learning to play the bass and Steve was just learning the guitar. But that’s all right. We was keen.”
I don’t know why his story resonates with me so much. His music was lovely, homely in the best sense. He turned his back on rock stardom and became a gypsy. He was the original roots rocker. He didn’t give a damn about money. In America, we prate on about following your dream, but always with the implication that eventually the dream will bring material success. Ronnie followed his, and the results were rather more austere.
Can you show me a dream
Can you show me one that’s better than mine
Can you stand it in the cold light of day
Neither can I
* The DVD runs 105 minutes, whereas the online version represents the trimmed 60-minute TV version.
Malcolm McLaren. Dead. The punk era with which McLaren will always be associated was probably the most over-analyzed period in music history. Everyone on the scene wrote a book about it, it seems. I certainly have nothing to add.
Beyond his controversial role as the Svengali behind the Sex Pistols (or, equally plausible, the guy who totally ripped them off), McLaren had a long and spotty subsequent career. Some of his efforts were more successful that others. Personally, I have a soft spot for Fans, his opera/pop thing, which I have listened to regularly for a quarter of century now. For whatever reason, I posted the lovely Madame Butterfly video to my Facebook just the other night.
I also remember he wrote a funny, surreal piece for the NY Times magazine some time back, about his early adventures as an apprentice wine taster:
Every day, the trainees were blindfolded and led to a spittoon. Here we were given test tubes of wine and asked to taste but not swallow. Blueface (as the general came to be known by us for the blue veins that ran across his face, like a gorgonzola) would then lecture us about the qualities each wine possessed, followed by the inevitable question: What did we think of it?
The first time this happened, we were tasting reds from Burgundy: “McLaren, tell us! What do you think of this wine?”
Blind, unable to assemble a coherent thought, I blurted out: “Yessir! Very nice. Deep . . . uh, rich, rich, very rich! Sweet, sweet.”
“What are you talking about?” he boomed. “That’s Pommard! A premier cru —1950!”
Fair enough. But then things began to get strange. “Goddamn, tastes like an army has been through there . . . that sodden earth! All mud and slush. All right for those frogs, but what we like is something a little fresh, don’t we?” he said, elbowing me in the ribs. “Something young and untouched!”
Old Blueface made us taste another.
“Now, that’s a little girl from Morey-St.-Denis!” he said. “A virgin. She needs to air a bit. Then we can all prod it, taste it and love it as we truly deserve, as God appointed us.” While we young virgins stood frozen, embarrassed and blushing from learning about the facts of life this way, he talked about wines for men and wines for women. Wine that tastes like a man, and wine that tastes like a woman. Wine that was friendly, frilly, silly or simply handsome; heroic or cowardly and foolish. And wines that defied discussion — these were apparently homosexual.
During our lunch breaks, the general would march us past St. Martin’s school of art. One day I broke ranks and followed a pack of girls wearing mohair sweaters and fishnet stockings into the school, where I came across a buxom woman — an actual woman! — perched naked on a stool, surrounded by students sketching this sexual apparition. How can I do that? I wondered.
Mohair sweaters and fishnet stockings! McLaren endeavored successfully to get himself fired, and was off to a series of art schools (he was kicked out of most of them). The rest is history. RIP.
RIP Alex Chilton.
Emusic now has the Pogues catalog, which is cause for celebration and for me cause for a rather vivid flashback to 1985, the year of Rum, sodomy and the lash.
I found the wiki on the year fascinating and foreign, yet strangely familiar. (And yes, the original Back to the Future was based in that year.)
Herewith, the brilliant Pogues classic, “A pair of brown eyes,” and an entertaining, not particularly linear video by Alex Cox (police state! Thatcher!), along with a few other carefully culled selections from that year. Presented without further comment.
PAIR OF BROWN EYES
FROM ST. KILDA TO KINGS CROSS
CLOSE TO ME
LOVE IS ALL AROUND